Source : https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-can-do-about-the-threats-to-employee-mental-health
What employers can do about the threats to employee mental health.
It’s true: the year we’ve just lived through has been one of the most historically stressful in modern memory. While the events of 2020 may have forced us to grapple with mental health in the workplace in new ways, the crisis had already been building. In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized workplace burnout as an occupational phenomenon, defining it as a syndrome “…resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Mental health at work was called one of the most far-reaching workplace issues of 2019.
Certainly, technology has played a role. Our always-on workplace culture and the blurring of boundaries between work and home have been enabled by the advent of technology that makes workplace responsibility ever-present. And it’s not just leadership and managers who have felt the effects: research has found that two-thirds of employees report struggling with chronic workplace stress and burnout.
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Burnout and stress are costly. According to recent research from the Tufts Medical Center, mental health needs and disorders are the single most expensive category of health costs for employers of all sizes and across all industries. Mental health challenges can damage productivity, increase absenteeism and presenteeism, drive up turnover, and increase medical and disability costs for employers. In fact, it’s estimated that, pre-pandemic, over 550 million workdays annually were lost to employee stress.
Even before COVID-19 hit, employers were heeding the signs. In late 2019, 73% of employers identified cutting employee stress as a priority for 2020 and over half reported that employee burnout was a major concern.
It’s clear that the crises of 2020 added to the pressure, creating a perfect storm of stress. In surveys, seven in 10 workers report considering this period as “the most stressful time in their entire professional career,” and nearly 88 percent reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress in 2020. In response, many employers are expanding access to mental health benefits to address these emerging employee needs. But many workers are still struggling, and even when a “new normal” stabilizes in the coming months, offering effective support for mental health will be key.
Where can employers start? First, it’s important to understand the distinct threats to employee mental health during this historic period of stress.
- The stress of new demands. Nearly a year on, many workers are feeling exhausted by the relentless nature of this period. Remote or hybrid school and childcare needs strain parents’ energy — and handling the demands of work and home feels increasingly arduous.
- The stress of isolation. Many workers — and employers — have discovered that the necessities of remote work have sapped connection and collaboration. We may not miss commuting, but we are missing the spark that comes from doing our best work with others.
- The stress of uncertainty. Uncertainty is stressful because it makes decision-making and planning ahead difficult. Not knowing how and when this period will end and what will come after adds to workers’ stress.
- Lack of effective support. Even if employees recognize that they need help, it can be difficult to access the right support. Some employees may not know where to start, or they may discover that their coverage is insufficient for the care they need. Many employees are experiencing financial strain on top of years of increasing costs as their share of out-of-pocket healthcare spending grows. A high deductible, coverage gaps, and other consequences of shrinking primary care coverage can leave employees unable to afford mental health care when they are perhaps at their most vulnerable.
Amid these threats, there is good news: the right support for mental health matters. Treatment is effective for as many as 80% of employees and leads to increased levels of workplace efficacy and satisfaction. Research also suggests that investment in mental health yields a threefold return. In response, many employers are expanding access to mental health with effective plans and solutions. The most robust include a full spectrum of resources for a range of mental health needs and on-demand, in-the-moment access to support.
Perhaps the legacy of these stressful times is that firms are finally seeing employee mental health for the priority it must be—now and in the months and years to come.